Deuteronomy 18-21: Foreshadows
March 20, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
These chapters begin with laws regarding priests (18:1-8) who are set aside especially for sacrifices and priestly duties around the place (the temple) that God shall designate. As a result, the priests, the tribe of Levi, shall have no inheritance with the other tribes and therefore gain their sustenance from their priestly duties. It is a special role, with particular privileges and responsibilities.
The Israelites are warned not to do the “abominable practices” of the people of the land which they are entering (18:9-14)—it was because of those nations’ necromancy and divination that God is casting them out of the land. Such things are not to characterize God’s people. They have a privileged access, through now the One Great High Priest, and have no need to attempt to manipulate spiritual forces. They are God’s, and they are not to forget it.
A new prophet will come “like Moses” (18:15-22). Those who do ministry among Muslims will know that this text is frequently ripped out of context and declared to be fulfilled in Muhammad. The argument is that Muhammad was a lawgiver, like Moses, unlike Jesus who was a person of grace. How mistaken is that interpretation! Moses was a redeemer: through him God brought his people out of Egypt, and on the verge of the Promised Land. The prophet “like Moses” then is ultimately Jesus the Christ, and all other God-called prophets who point to that Christ.
In chapter 19, laws are described concerning “cities of refuge” (19:1-13), a technique for dealing with accidental manslaughter, and a differentiation between that and true murder. There must be at least “two or three” witnesses to any crime or offense for the charge to be corroborated (19:15)—a principle employed in the New Testament (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1) in the context of church discipline. Once again it is clear that the New Testament church, unlike the Old Testament people of God, is not a theocratic nation-state with the power of the judiciary, but a city of God whose citizenship is eternal.
Chapter 20 has laws concerning warfare. Some principles are adduced here that may be wise to apply prudently towards strenuous ministry situations and callings. For instance, not going to the frontline of a mission or ministry leadership position in the first year of marriage has frequently been urged on the basis of this text (20:7). Whether or not that is prudent, and it probably is, we may only take it as an application, not a strict correlation of the text. Gideon was reminded of this text (20:1-4, 8) when he removed those from his army who were frightened (Judges 7:3). The point of all this is that it is God who gives the victory, and while we must do our part, we are not to do it in such a way that mitigates other principles of godliness, family and integrity.
The laws in chapter 21 regarding “if a man has two wives” (21:15) must fall into Jesus’ description of some of Moses’ laws that they were given because their hearts were hard (Matthew 19:8). Jesus reminds us that this is not how it was at the beginning; then it was one man and one woman for life (Matt. 19:3-6). Part, then, of the prescriptions of Moses are not only to convict us of our inability to keep the moral law, not only to point us to Christ, not only to be a moral structure that now in Christ and by his Spirit we are empowered to obey and fulfill, but to accommodate the sinful (“hard”) heart of the Old Testament elemental members of the covenant community of the people of God.
The chapter ends with a word that becomes fulfilled in the curse that Christ bore for us (21:22-23)—Acts 5:30; Galatians 3:13. Throughout the gospel this promise is being foreshadowed and is to lead us to worship of the One who hung dead for us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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